Healing

In light of current events, I’ve been overwhelmed with emotion. I’ve often felt frightened, anxious, ashamed, convicted, angry, resentful, and confused. I’ve had a hard time making sense of things and have prayed for cunning eyes and the grace to see Truth amidst the many voices and headlines that seem to assault me every time I glance at my phone…which is basically every spare second of my time because I’m an addict. Working on it.

In response to that, I’ve been trying to be more disciplined about reading Scripture. Every day I try to start my morning by reading the day’s readings and devotions I subscribe to. I’ve been opening up my bible to read the scriptures in deeper context and to take time to really meditate on them instead of just reading them on my phone. It has been a life-giving practice.

I rarely have a hard time finding a way to connect with the day’s readings, but today the readings just gutted me. It was like they were written specifically for this very moment in history.

My eyes are spent with tears, my stomach churns; my bile is poured out on the ground at the brokenness of the daughter of my people, as children and infants collapse in the streets of the town.

They cry out to their mothers, “Where is bread and wine?” as they faint away like the wounded in the streets of the city, as their life is poured out in their mothers’ arms.

To what can I compare you – to what can I liken you – O daughter Jerusalem? What example can I give in order to comfort you, virgin daughter Zion? For your breach is vast as the sea; who could heal you?

Your prophets provided you visions of whitewashed illusion; they did not lay bare your guilt, in order to restore your fortunes; they saw for you only oracles of empty deceit.

Lamentations 2:11-14 NAB

Gracious, if that isn’t relevant. I’ve never really spent much time in Lamentations, because honestly it’s not very pleasant. I’m definitely guilty of seeking out scriptures of hope and promise and avoiding the uncomfortable ones. The introduction to Lamentations in my bible says, “…the reader is not so much engaged by the Book of Lamentations as assaulted by it.” I feel the same way about the news every dang day. “But with its unsparing focus on destruction, pain, and suffering the book serves an invaluable function as part of Scripture, witnessing to a biblical faith determined to express honestly the harsh realities of a violent world and providing contemporary readers the language to do the same (emphasis mine).

I think that’s where we are, friends. Or at least that’s where I am. I feel assaulted by the pain, horror, injustice, and evil in my country and overwhelmed by the fact that it comes from all sides. But I’m learning that I have to lean into the uncomfortable parts of life in order to grow. I have to examine my own heart, to identify my personal responsibility, look my sin in the face, and make it right. I’m heading to confession today.

I don’t understand the world. I don’t have all the answers and I have failed so many times. I feel pinned and inadequate, ill-equipped to grapple with the things going on in my country and paralyzed by the fear that whatever it is I do, it will never be “right” or “good enough.”

But here’s what I do know. Racism is a horror, an unequivocal sin, and a blight on our culture.

I also know that there’s a difference between justice and vengeance.

I know that we are all sinners and we are all deserving of mercy. Everyone.

I know that nothing will heal us but God, and that we’re not all called to fight injustice the same ways. But just as with the book of Lamentations, I am called to look sorrow and pain in the face and to listen. Everyone is allowed to feel their feelings, even if those feelings aren’t easy for me to understand or agree with. The only way forward for me is to push into the pain and to pray.

Cry out to the Lord from your heart, wall of daughter Zion! Let your tears flow like a torrent day and night; give yourself no rest, no relief for your eyes.

Rise up! Wail in the night, at the start of every watch; pour out your heart like water before the Lord: lift up your hands to him for the lives of your children, who collapse from hunger at the corner of every street.

Lamentations 2:18-19

Right now my heart feels like the Centurion in today’s gospel (Matthew 8:5-17): “Lord, I am not worthy to have you enter under my roof; only say the word and my servant will be healed.” I know that I am unable to heal anything on my own, unable to affect change without first being healed myself, without being radically transformed by Christ.

Healing is the central theme of the gospel and healing is what our world so desperately needs. Today in Matthew, Jesus heals the Centurion’s servant, Peter’s mother-in-law, and many more:

When it was evening, they brought him many who were possessed by demons, and he drove out the spirits by a word and cured all the sick, to fulfill what had been said by Isaiah the prophet:

‘He took away our infirmities and bore our diseases.’

Matthew 8:16-17

He’s here to heal us, friends. We’re never going to conquer evil or injustice or pandemics without looking into our hearts with humility and honesty, taking responsibility for our place in the world, and opening ourselves to the healing light of Christ.

We have to boldly seek truth, realizing that political leaders and organizers of movements may not be completely rooted in gospel truth, regardless of whichever cause they serve. We have to develop open hearts and cunning eyes, constantly checking in with Jesus. He must be the only one we serve, not politics, parties, or movements. To be clear, I’m not advocating that we take no action but rather that we carefully discern which organizations and individuals we support rather than being swept away by every social media post we see that has an eloquent quote (something I am guilty of). We have to do our research before we align ourselves with anything or anyone.

Healing starts with recognizing the belovedness and inherent dignity in each and every person, even those who seem the most evil and ugly to us. We are called to serve justice with mercy and reconciliation. We are required to take responsibility for our actions, even if that means admitting we were wrong. We have to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, leaning into the discomfort and hiding ourselves in the wounds of Jesus.

Here is the prayer of my heart:

Lord Jesus, you know our hearts, where they are aching, consumed by anxiety, gripped with fear, where they are hurt, wounded, and hardened. You know all the places we store up little hopes. You know our wants and needs and all the false gods we turn to. Give us the grace to turn to you today. Lord, bolster us where we feel weak, weary, and worried.

Jesus, heal our hearts. Bind up those things in us that rebel against you. Purify us and give us hearts of flesh in place of our hearts of stone.

Father, give us eyes to see you at work in our lives, hearts that break over what breaks yours. Give us ears to hear you speaking directly to us and the humility and obedience to serve you.

Reveal yourself to us, Lord, in every person we meet. Remove our blinders that we might see belovedness all around us.

Jesus, this world is broken. We are broken. Draw us to you and comfort us at your breast. Help us to recognize you offering yourself to us and give us the grace and fortitude to offer ourselves back to you.

Amen

House Rules

Y’all, I don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable here, but I put on real pants today, pants with buttons and a zipper, and they fit. In the spirit of that level of success and productivity, I thought I’d take the time to write down my updated list of house rules.

Previously, I’d say that our house rules were pretty normal. My demands are usually fairly minimal, stuff like “don’t jump on the couch,” “muddy shoes belong on the mat,” “don’t bring slugs indoors,” that sort of thing. But, as with most things these days, I’ve come to realize that our house rules need a little bit of a revamp.

Below you’ll see the letter I’ve written to the darling cherubim I like to call my children. Please feel free let me know if you’ve got any ideas for additions or revisions.


Dear Offspring: As I’m sure you know, times they are a-changing. Therefore, I have updated our house rules. I’m sure you’ll agree that this is long overdue, as I have heard your repeated protests and observed your continual opposition. Today, you’ll be pleased to know that I have heard you and your demands are reflected in policy changes below. Please review the proposed legislation, which follows. Thank you for your continued support in keeping our home a haven of rest, serenity, and joy for many years to come.

  • Do what you want with the couch. Go ahead and jump, climb, slide, destroy, and ruin that thing…I’ve accepted the fact that its demise is near.
  • Just put the shoes anywhere. I’m tired of hearing myself speak pointless reminders into the empty, echoing void.
  • All future arguments will be settled by trampoline cage match. Just sort it out amongst yourselves. You know where the bandaids are.
  • If you could just kind of attempt to clean your teeth, we can call it good. Just try. Do it for me and the people living in the tri-state area who can smell your stench.
  • If you are tempted to tattle on someone, please refer to #3.
  • Just use the screens. I don’t have it in me to police screen time anymore. Give my regards to Mario and the Koopas. Good luck with your turnips and I hope you catch a red snapper who’s looking pretty dapper. I’m out.
  • If you can keep living insects out of the bathroom, that’d be cool, but I understand the deep desire to bring the outside in. Let’s just avoid the ones with stingers, shall we?
  • Go on ahead and just scatter those LEGOs like party confetti. I’ve become accustomed to navigating the house as though I’m traversing minefield and I rather enjoy the challenge of charting a new potentially pain-free path through the living room every morning. If I ever find one, I’ll let you know!
  • Feel free to partake in wrestlin’, wrasslin’, wranglin’, tanglin’, tumblin’, bumblin’, or any other form of fisticuffs while you’re upstairs. I accept the fact that your fighting will eventually bring the ceiling fan in the kitchen down upon me. ‘Tis inevitable.
  • You’ve got open access to the nail polish, the stove, and the lawn mower. Again, you know where the bandaids are.
  • Essentially, kids, the house is yours. I formally surrender to the fact that I am a mere observer of the real-life Lord of the Flies reenactment that my life has become and I shall sharpen my pike as a sign of unity with your new form of government…
  • HOWEVER, No child shall eat, breathe, or make any manner of mouth noises anywhere near my person. If there is a youngster in the tri-state area who is partaking of foodstuffs and I can audibly hear the consumption of said food, I will flip my actual lid. I can handle all of the other annoyances for they are minor in comparison. But if I hear another child noisily masticate a graham cracker right in my ear, I am out. Totally not kidding, Imma check myself into a hotel and y’all are on your own. Good luck, you know where the bandaids are.
  • And while we’re at it, if the rare occurrence happens in which I am granted the opportunity to sit and eat my own meal, y’all better not touch my body. Me sitting down to eat is not the signal for you to climb into my lap, hang on my arm, or violently lay your entire body across my back. It is not the time, younglings. Not. The. Time.
  • In conclusion, my food is the same as your food. Actually, it’s probably just a collection of cast off scraps that I’ve pillaged and gathered from your plates. Contrary to popular belief, my meals are comprised mainly of the food you refuse to eat. Do you remember that food you loved yesterday that I foolishly assumed you’d eat again today? Anyone recall that old favorite from days of yore that you can’t bear to eat ever again? It doesn’t magically become different food when I scrape it from your pitiful plate of refusal onto a different plate which is then placed in front of me. When my plate is full of these outcast foods, it’s still the same food, so please don’t try to steal it from me. It is still the cheese I sliced incorrectly or the third helping of meat you demanded and then realized you couldn’t eat. It’s not miraculously more delicious than when you had a chance to eat it, so just let me eat it in peace. It’s all I’ve got and I just want to eat undisturbed.

Sincerely yours,

Your devoted mother


At the time of publication, I literally used the phrase, “Don’t put that sheep in your pants,” so I suppose that’s getting added to the list.

Rest and Rise

I recently reached the point in the ‘ole pandemic in which I was crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot. I mean…if you’re not crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, are you even coronavirus-ing?? The tl:dr version is that I hit a wall.

The long version is that it was the first day of our weekend. My husband had worked yet another 60+ hour work week, and while I am eternally, eternally grateful that he’s still got a job, his working so much means I’m home alone with the kids. Again, I am so grateful but it’s hard. (Yet another of life’s strange truths: you can be indescribably thankful for something and also be completely over it.)

I started the day tender, emotional, and testy. I eventually set out to do my once a week apocalyptic Wal-Mart run, which was awful because Wal-Mart and also extra awful because pandemic. Ugh. The register was possessed and either wouldn’t scan things or inexplicably scanned things that weren’t even near it. Not kidding, a package of graham crackers was ghost scanned like ten times, so the poor cashier had to void that out and then move on to peppers that wouldn’t scan at all. The whole experience was trying, made extra frustrating by the fact that I got home and realized I had left two bags at the store.

I took it really well. (Please see: lying liar who lies.)

After I finished teaching the kids new curse words (let’s be honest, reviewing the word’s we’ve been working on for the last few weeks), I set in to fight with my husband who was being nice to me. He foolishly offered to help me, perhaps forgetting that I am a native Texan born and bred and also the clone of my mother and don’t nobody try to help me when I need it thankyouverymuch. It was one of those moments when I knew I was completely in the wrong and I needed to shut up and be humble enough to accept help, but I just couldn’t get my dumb self to do it. Lawd.

So I found myself crying in the Wal-Mart parking lot, texting a dear friend who replied, “I feel like that so often. Cry it out is my theory. Don’t block the feeling because this f*$%&@! sucks.” And ain’t that just the perfect truth? So I cried at Wal-Mart and went in to get my stuff and kept on moving forward, which is just kinda where we’re all at these days. (As an aside, can I just say that masks work real well to hide the fact that you’ve been crying in the parking lot, a perk I wasn’t expecting when this whole mask thing began. So there’s a little silver lining.)

I’ve been thinking about it a lot since then. Trying to piece together why I’m wound so tight, finding it so hard to cope some days. Even my (completely patient and not stubborn like me) mother told me yesterday that she, a retired person, feels inordinately stressed, rushed, and busy. She’s been making masks for folks, perfecting her pattern and sending them off to friends and family who need them, but other than that her daily life hasn’t changed all that much. She lives in a rural area in Texas that sort of forces her to isolate just due to geography. Mom and I agreed that, regardless of our life situation, there’s a pervading sense of urgency to everything we’re doing these days that seeps into our consciousness. The fact that we’re always at home doesn’t affect this pressure at all. We’re collectively operating under a sustained high level of stress, like some sort of twisted carpe diem that urges us to hustle and do “enough” while we’re effectively forced to tread water. What a time to be alive.

Separated from the Sacraments, unable to do my weekly holy hour in Adoration, I’ve found myself becoming increasingly more prickly. I’ve allowed myself to settle into the mindset that I have to do things myself, my wellbeing is dependent upon my actions, I’ve got to pull myself up by my bootstraps, and it is through my own power that I will forge on ahead into the new normal, as they say.

I realize that this is clearly not due to separation on God’s part, for He is nothing if not constant. This change in attitude is due to my own weakness and sin. I’ve allowed my grief to build up walls in my heart. We’ve lost so much and I think it’s normal for our defense mechanisms to spring up. Perhaps you’re finding that, like me, you’ve become critical, prickly, and judgmental when you desperately desire to be gentle, open, loving, and free.

While this response is normal, it’s never satisfying, at least for me. The walls I put up on my heart always end up being constricting and the “control” I create is stifling and suffocating, certainly not freeing like I intend. I find that my version of “in control” often ends up looking more like paranoia and a vice grip on the steering wheel rather than the confidence and peace I’m really searching for.

The truth is, of course, that nothing I manufacture for myself will ever satisfy. The deeper truth is in the resurrection, the truth that every death I experience is a new beginning and Jesus is deeply present in both. Right now we’re in an ongoing new beginning that seems to stretch on in an eternity of unknowns. We have laid so much down, been required to offer up, sacrifice, let go, and take away. It hurts, this death of our previous lives. It hurts deeply. But after death there is always resurrection. Christ is present in it all consistently redeeming it with His endless mercy and grace. In a reflection over at Blessed is She, Kelsey Dassance says, “Let us rest and rise in His invitation to grace. Let’s live for eternal life.”

Rest and rise. I love that.

Guys, we can rest in grief. We can let ourselves be sad and cry in the Wal-Mart parking lot. We can take a moment and feel the weariness and acknowledge the fear. But we are an Easter people, are we not? We get to live the truth of the resurrection every single day. It is only in claiming that truth that we can make peace with where we’re at.

Claim the truth of the resurrection every moment of every day. That which has been killed, the places we’re laid low, the dead ends, the broken backs, the space where we’re just done…that’s where He is. Christ is right there waiting to hold space with us, be near us in our woundedness and redeem it all. Each ending, however large or inconsequential it may seem, is an opportunity to receive Him. The key, I think, is in laying down our will and taking up His. Christ specifically said,

“…I came down from heaven not to do my own will, but the will of the one who sent me. And this is the will of the one who sent me, that I should not lose anything of what he gave me, but that I should raise it on the last day.”

John 6:37-40

Guys, whether we’re grouchy, afraid, crying at the Wal-Mart, or lashing out when others offer us help, now is the time to rest and to rise. Now is the time to live the truth of the resurrection over and over and over again, as many times a day as we need. Jesus is constantly working, constantly moving, always redeeming and raising us up in every single dead space we experience. But we have to claim it. We have to open our prickly, grouchy, fear filled hearts, rest in Him and rise in His truth.

And as a caveat, let me remind you that we’re not required to rise and seize the day and come out of all this like perfectly transformed butterflies with new business ideas, angelic children, and the recipe for world peace. Shit, we don’t even have to have mastered foamy coffee or sourdough. We’re simply called to rest and rise in Christ. And when we rise, let us rise in the deep truth of our identity: that we were created from love and created to love. Let that be our transformation, to love others and ourselves through the gentle, redeeming eyes of a Savior who’s been there.

Rest and rise today, my friends. You are indescribably precious and loved.

Transition

The other night one of my kids was acting weird. She just wasn’t herself and I could tell that something was bothering her. When I prodded a little, she completely and theatrically melted down. “I don’t know, I don’t know,” she kept repeating. “I don’t KNOW what’s wrong with me. I don’t KNOW what I’m feeling, if I’m happy or if I’m sad. I don’t know what to FEEL. My life isn’t turning out the way I wanted. Like, who am I even??!?”

Did I mention we have a flair for the dramatic?

I tried to cover my grin as I calmed her down. Poor kid was just so frustrated with so many things and having such a difficult time articulating her emotions, so I leaned back onto something that I’ve used with the kids for a long time now. It’s just a quick check in that reminds them of their identity and consists of three simple questions: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? Being reminded that she was created by a loving God who made her and made her good was enough to settle my girl for the night.

And the whole situation seemed hysterical to me until I was having an identical breakdown like two days later.

I’m feeling rather adrift if I’m honest, having a difficult time finding my place in things. Without Easter to look forward to or Lent to keep me disciplined and no solid end in sight for the stay at home order, I’m having a hard time coping. It’s like the “day after” feeling I always get after holidays, but amped up a few hundred notches.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Today’s Gospel reading from John (20:11-18) shows us Mary Magdalene encountering Jesus and mistaking him for the gardener. When she fully recognizes Him, it’s obviously a moment, but eventually Jesus says, “Stop holding on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. but go to my brothers and tell them…” and gives Mary that incredible job of being the Apostle to the Apostles.

In today’s Blessed is She devotion, Kendra Tierney writes:

She can’t hold on to Him as her friend and teacher. She needs to let go of Him as a Man so she can embrace Him as God. She can’t get caught up in her expectations for the moment and for her life, because Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.

Kendra Tierney, Blessed is She, 04/14/20

“She can’t get caught up in her expectations.” Man, that gutted me. I think that much of the reason I’m struggling to cope these days is that I’ve been caught up so tightly in what I expect my life to be like. I have a vision for how I think things ought to be, what Lent should look like, how I want Easter to be celebrated, how frequently I think I should be able to receive Holy Communion.

“…Jesus has a new and different love for her to experience. And an important job for her to do.” I think it’s only human nature to cling to what we know, especially in difficult times of transition.

I’m a birth doula, so I often see the world through the lens of childbirth. I always say that life is like labor, transition is the hardest part. Transition is the part in childbirth that seems to take the longest, when a mother’s body is completing its final preparations to deliver her baby, it’s an eternity of seemingly unstoppable intensity. This is the point when mothers frequently begin to doubt themselves, when they say they can’t go on any longer, beg for it to be over, many times searching frantically for any “out” they can find. Alas, the only way out is through, as we all know. In order to get through transition in childbirth, a mother must push through the intensity so that she can push in a more literal sense to bring her child into the world.

And as I’ve seen time and time again in childbirth, the women who cope with labor the best are the ones who submit themselves to the experience. They don’t try to control or manipulate the situation, but surrender themselves to the waves. Laboring women who do fight their bodies get panicky, tension making the pain more intense. Labor oftentimes takes longer and is more of an ordeal that they survived than an event they took part in.

We’re in transition right now. Just like the experience of a laboring woman, it feels that there’s no end in sight. Our current reality feels like some sort of endless in-between where we’re promised something good on the other side, but it feels like we’ll never ever get there.

The only way out is through. The only way to cope is to refocus our lives on the One who is calling us to a new and different experience of His love. In order to progress, we must let go of our expectations, lay down the ideals we’ve been clinging to, the preconceived notions of what “normal” is or what our lives “should” look like, and submit ourselves to the experience, however difficult it may be. It is only in surrendering to labor that a pregnant woman comes to deliver her child. It is only in surrendering ourselves to our present circumstances that we will encounter new ways to experience the Risen Christ and, like Mary Magdalene, receive a deeper sense of what we are called to as His disciples.

Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you?

Here I Raise My Ebenezer

He reached down from on high and seized me; drew me out of the deep waters. He rescued me from my mighty enemy, from foes too powerful for me. they attacked me on my day of distress, but the Lord was my support. He set me free in the open; he rescued me because he loves me.

Psalm 18: 17-20
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing is my all time favorite hymn. I sung it to all of my babies and still sing it when they (or I) need a little extra comforting. The entire song is just so good, but my particular favorite phrase is in the second verse: “Here I raise my Ebenezer, hither by Thy help I’ve come; and I hope by Thy good pleasure, safely to arrive at home.”

Many sermons have been preached on the meaning of the word “Ebenezer” so I won’t try to do it justice here, but it comes from 1 Samuel chapter 7. The Israelites are about to do battle against the Philistines, things were looking bad and the Israelites beg Samuel, “Do not stop crying out to the Lord our God for us, to save us from the Philistines” (1 Samuel 7:8) and so Samuel offers prayer and sacrifice to the Lord. In turn, God “thunders loudly” which throws the Philistines into confusion, allowing the Israelites to have the upper hand and win the day. And then here comes the Ebenezer:

Samuel then took a stone and placed it between Mizpah and Jeshanah; he named it Ebenezer, explaining, “As far as this place the Lord has been our help.”

1 Samuel 7:12

I love that this tiny little snippet of scripture finds its way into my favorite song, because it’s so remarkable, right? Samuel takes the time to build a monument to God, a physical reminder that in that specific place, God showed His faithfulness to the Israelites. He did not leave them abandoned. He heard them and He rescued them. Moving forward, they could look back at that place, see the huge rock that Samuel placed there, even touch it with their hands and remember that particular instance of God’s presence and grace.

If you look for them, these Ebenezers are all over scripture. There are many monuments built to glorify God and the Psalms particularly serve as reminders. Skimming through, we can hear the voices saying, “Remember when God was faithful to us? Remember when he showed up? Remember that specific time He answered our prayers?”

I often tell my doula clients (and friends, and kids, and myself, and anyone who will listen) that in times of trouble, anxiety, or worry, it is imperative that we remember what’s true. Part of that is remembering who we are. It is imperative that we, like the Israelites, have a strong sense of identity. It is so important that we really own and take on the knowledge that we are the chosen children of God, beloved before all creation, created in His image, out of love, for love. The other part of remembering truth is that we must remember who He is. We need to revisit our own Ebenezers.

When I take the time to look back, to recount God’s work in my life, like the Israelites, it is clear that I have been rescued over and over and over again. God has constantly met me in my loneliness and my uncertainty and given me sure footing. He has redeemed countless desperate situations and dismal mistakes, and revealed Himself to me in undeniable ways. He has been present, a comforter and faithful guide. He has met me in my sorrow, my misunderstanding, my frustration, and my fear. He has steadily loved me for my entire life, slowly revealing Himself to me in a myriad of quiet little ways, gently leading my heart to His.

I know without doubt, that God will redeem our present suffering, that He is working it all for the good of the world and the glory of His name. In this moment, we are like Martha and Mary, wrecked because our brother is dying and wondering why the Lord isn’t moving in the ways we expect Him to move. But I truly believe that, just like Martha and Mary, we will see God’s glory in much bigger ways than we could ever imagine. Tombs will be emptied, we will be pulled out of our graves; new life is coming.

If we take the time to revisit our own Ebenezers we’ll find hope to keep moving forward on to the next battle, hope to sustain us in the war to come. Soon this present suffering will become for us a new Ebenezer, a place where we will erect an even bigger monument, continuing to point heavenward, saying, “Remember that time? Remember God’s grace?”

Truth and Trust

Well, the good news is I think I hit my stride with the whole home school thing. The bad news is I still have my new chin hair. I tried real hard to find my tweezers, desperately ransacked the bathroom cabinets where they’re *supposed* to be before I remembered that I had to throw the tweezers away the other day because a kid was using them to fish for turds in the toilet. Not lying. Wish I was, but I’m not.

So, the next time you see me I’ll probably look like I’m auditioning for Duck Dynasty, but I’mma go with it and embrace the new normal. (It has yet to be determined if my husband will want to embrace this new normal. However, he is a wise, intelligent man, so I think he’ll take what he can get chin hairs not excluded.)

As I settle into this new schedule, new facial hair and all, it’s been amazing to me to look back and see how God has been preparing me for this time. I’m part of a ministry team that leads a women’s retreat every year at our church. This year’s speaker, Amber VanVickle, spoke about suffering and trust. She told us about how she did a challenge once in which she didn’t ask God for anything for an entire month. And the second she said it, my stomach dropped. I instantly knew I had to, needed to try it, and I thought, “Well… shit. I’m going to have to do that.” (Sometimes my response to the Lord tugging at my heart is less than stellar, y’all.)

So that’s what I did for Advent this year. I did not ask the Lord for anything in prayer. There were no requests, no supplication, no demands, nothing. Just me and Jesus and lots of time…because incidentally this was around the same time that I thought I was signing up to do a holy hour in the Adoration and somehow got signed up for a holy two hours. This was also before I had come to terms with the idea that silence before the Lord is an integral part of prayer. I had the blessing of hearing Meg Hunter Kilmer speak at my parish and when asked about how to pray, Meg said, “Silence. You need to sit in silence with God for at least 15 minutes a day.” My response, again, was, “Well, shit.”

Clearly Jesus had work to do on my heart.

What followed was an intense, challenging, beautiful time of me being frustrated with my own distraction and struggling to maintain focus while also trying not to fall asleep in Adoration. And at the same time, I was fighting every urge to ask, ask, ask in prayer.

Important side note: obviously, God wants us to ask things of him. Very specifically in scripture he tells us to knock, seek, ask. But so many times in our asking, we’re not surrendering. In our requesting, we’re actually trying to control or manipulate the situation. At least for me, my prayer life had become more about what I thought was the best solution to the problem and less about fiat and Thy will be done. Letting go of asking meant letting go of control.

When you take away the ability to ask and request, you’re left with only the ability to state and to profess. So my prayer life quickly became statements of trust and truth rather than begging to have my desires fulfilled. My journal entries during this time became less lists of demands and morphed into litanies of truth and surrender:

Jesus, you know my heart. You know my weaknesses and my failings. You know my addictions and sins. Lord, you know the depths of my hurt and all of the spots, the deep places I need healing. Jesus, I know that you are faithful, that you are before all time, and transcend all knowledge and understanding. You are unchangeably good. I believe you are pursuing me, healing me, drawing me out of the walls I’ve put up.

God, I believe you are faithful and you have a plan for me. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that no prayer is ever wasted, no moment unproductive if spent with you. I trust that your will would be done and that you are holding me securely in your hands. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that I will meet you in faithful silence every when it is hard for me. You are real, you are moving, transforming, dwelling, and guiding. You are love. Jesus, I trust in you.

Dec. 1, 2019

God, I don’t know what our future holds, sometimes I’m tempted to listen to fear and the idea that we haven’t suffered any real tragedy so it’s coming, that our future is somehow shadowed and shaky. But I’m reminded of your truth, that even in hardship and worry and storm and draught, you are present. You never change. Your love is constant and so is your mercy. So, whatever the future holds, I know you are holding us. Whatever the tides may bring, I will say yes to the call, your call to me within them.

Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that whatever you’re calling me to, you will equip me and provide for me within that call. Jesus, I trust in you. I trust that your ways are not our ways and that is good. Jesus, I trust in you. Trust that you are guiding, protecting, leading, and shepherding all of us. Even when you seem distant, you are there. Even when I’m confused, threatened, and afraid you are there. Jesus, I trust in you. Whatever the next days, the next year bring, I know I am covered in your mercy.

Dec. 15, 2019

I find myself compelled to return to these entries because once again I’m in need of peace. When my heart is troubled, when I’m grasping too much, attempting to control too much the answer, at least for me, is to trust. Trust and truth can do much in the face of fear and anxiety.

The truth is that God has not changed. He is real, He is moving, He is intimately in love with us, and He can redeem all things. All things.

The truth is that sometimes we have to get uncomfortable to really see how Christ pursues our hearts, how he wants to sneak in past our messy, disordered affections and addictions to show us what real satisfaction can be. There is truth and peace resting in his Sacred Heart and he longs for us to make our way there.

The truth is that when I let my dog out early this morning, the birds were still singing. Up before dawn, perched in a dying tree in my back yard, they were singing their hearts out to herald the coming day. They’re still singing and I think there’s a lot to trust in just in that.

Pandemic Survival Guide: Throw All the Advice in the Garbage

Sometimes I feel like my life’s work can be boiled down to two messages: “you are incredibly loved” and “you’re allowed to feel your feelings.” Admittedly those aren’t very original messages, but that’s usually what’s on my heart. So, here goes for today.

Mamas practicing quarantine and social distancing, listen unto me: This time with our children is a gift and you are allowed to use it as you see fit.

If you want to focus on academics and stretch those homeschooling muscles, you’re allowed!

If you want to snuggle on the couch and watch 8,000 movies a day, you’re allowed!

If you want to tackle all the project ideas you’ve ever pinned on your Pinterest board and learn to make homemade bread and read all the read alouds and journal all the nature journals and perfect all the math skills, you’re allowed!

If you want to park the kids in front of the computer and let the kind souls of the internet entertain and educate them while you eat chocolate chips in the pantry, you’re allowed!

If you want to try elaborate baking projects and let the kids help, you’re allowed!

If you want to throw a family sized bag of Lucky Charms out in the middle of the floor like you’re feeding chickens, you’re allowed! (Let’s be honest, it’ll all end up on the floor anyway.)

If you want to construct elaborate mazes and obstacle courses through your house, you’re allowed!

Repeat after me: There is no right way to parent in a quarantine.

People are doing such good things for our kids in all this. Zoos, museums, children’s book authors, celebrities are all pitching in to help entertain us while we’re stuck at home. What a gift! Teachers, neighbors, friends, and internet celebrities are furiously sharing actual tons of phenomenal resources and information to help our kids learn and be engaged while coronavirus does its thing.

But what I fear might be happening is that you moms are hearing a subtle message in this flurry of sharing. I have a sneaking suspicion that in the midst of the links and the videos and the educational games, you’re hearing a voice that whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough if your kids aren’t doing fill in the blank.” I worry that you’re feeling pressured to achieve certain standards, to make the “most” of this time at home whether that consists of drilling them on multiplication tables or making perfect memories. I suspect that you might be feeling “less than” because you’re not doing all of the things.

If that’s how you’re feeling, you just drop that right now. Put it down and don’t pick it back up. Mama, if you’re making sure your kids know they’re loved, you’re doing enough. This is just like when you brought them home from the hospital and everybody and their grandma had an opinion on every move you made as a new parent. Friend, everyone has opinions on how to best navigate this unprecedented time at home, but no one knows your family like you do.

I wouldn’t call myself a Pinterest mom, per se, but I do love an elaborate theme party, and face paint on a Tuesday, and creative cooking, and science experiments. I’ve toyed with homeschooling. I’ve been reprimanded by my husband for using glitter in the kitchen…on multiple occasions. I used to lead a popular family story time at a public library. I’m also a former Disney cast member. Entertaining kids is kinda my jam. But even I am a bit overwhelmed with the amount of resources streaming in from various sources. Not gonna lie, the internet is making me feel a little pressured to make everything a Magical Moment (registered trademark) and I’m not sure I have that in me right now. As a side note I think it’s important to consider the mental and emotional toll social distancing is taking on us. Sometimes you can’t stay sane and do all of the internet story times even if it is Mo Willems performing them.

There’s no way to do it all. There’s no expectation for this or for you. If you are a “Pinterest mom” or you’re the opposite, you are enough just as you are. And for your children, you just being you is more than enough. We’re not getting a grade for how much we accomplished during the quarantine. As Teddy Roosevelt so famously said, comparison is the thief of surviving global pandemic and quarantine.

The only way to win or lose at this goes as follows.

You will be losing if:

  • …you spend the entire time ignoring your children with your face stuck in a phone obsessing over news you can’t control.
  • ..you spend the entire time ignoring yourself and your own emotional/mental needs. We gotta self-care the heck out of this, friends.
  • …you kill yourself and make everyone miserable trying to be something you’re not.
  • …you let fear control you.

You will be winning if:

  • …you find some sort of balance. As Olaf says, “all good things, all good things.” All these resources and websites and projects are great, but even with all the time in the world there’s not enough time to do it all.
  • …you make certain every single day that your children know how precious they are to you.
  • …you look in their faces and listen to them when they speak.
  • …you cut yourself some slack and give everyone some grace. Sometimes grace looks like extra screen time that isn’t remotely educational and sometimes it’s taking the time to say a family rosary together.
  • …you prioritize prayer and quiet. For everyone.

At the end of the day, you are the exact mama your babies need. Dig in and love, love, love them whatever that looks like for your particular situation. No one can do it all, but you can do small things with great love.

And for the record, yesterday we had a dance party with balloons. As usual it ended in fisticuffs and tears. However, no blood was shed so we’re calling it a win.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

True Connection: Hiddenness, Solitude, Truth and You

In a world that predisposes us to yearn for social connection, hidden seems horrible. We’re surrounded by promptings to share our lives, compulsions to photograph our food, document our days. Pinging phones remind us that people are waiting, posting, moving, doing and if we don’t check in, we’re missing out. 

Now obviously there is so much merit to the community found on social media. Now more than ever, the ability to socialize via the internet can 100% be a lifeline for those weathering tough seasons of life. We’re in a unique time when many of us are literally unable to socialize in any way other than social media. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. These are all the connecting threads binding us together in a bizarre time when we need each other. And that’s good. What a gift it is to communicate and connect.

But the other side of this connection is the compulsion to share, to be relevant, to create content. We’ve seen it before when tumultuous headlines light up our Facebook feeds: there’s also the compulsion to panic, vent, share our unfiltered opinion, comment on every post that irks us. I can only speak for myself, but I have frequently felt the urge to chime in with something in order to feel…important, valuable, noticed, preferred, validated. I want to be noticed and social media is my stage. If I get enough comments, enough validation through likes, then I’m not hidden.

But, y’all, hidden doesn’t mean forgotten. Read that again: Hidden does not mean forgotten. Hidden doesn’t mean unloved or unloveable. Hidden doesn’t mean irrelevant or unimportant.

We have been drawn into a time of hiddenness against our will. None of us has chosen this pandemic, none of us desired this time of separation. This is hard and it’s scary and it’s lonely to be hidden away like this, to suffer in this strange way.

I’ve written before that the Lord has spent the last year and a half or so leading me into solitude and silence. It has taken (and still takes) extreme focus and discipline for me to settle down into silent prayer, to be still when I’m with the Lord in Adoration, or to quiet my thoughts just to be with Him.

Henri Nouwen said the following and I think it’s so beautiful and true:

Every time we enter into solitude we withdraw from our windy, earthquaking, fiery lives and open ourselves to the great encounter. The first thing we often discover in solitude is our own restlessness, our drivenness, and compulsiveness, our urge to act quickly, to make an impact, and to have influence; and often we find it very hard to withstand the temptation to return as quickly as possible to the world of “relevance.” But when we persevere with the help of a gentle discipline, we slowly come to hear the still, small voice and to feel the gentle breeze, and so come to know the Lord of our heart, soul, and mind, the Lord who makes us see who we really are.

Henri Nouwen

We Americans are really terrible at slowing down. We value productivity, measurable achievements, checked off to-do lists, profits. We have bought into the lie that we’re only worth as much as we produce whether that be in the currency of dollars or follows. We have to make, do, create, impact, influence in certain ways in order to be “worthy.” For us to be forced to stop, for us to be isolated, unable to do is unthinkable. Our society has enslaved itself so intimately to this lie that we literally have people licking airplane toilet seats during a pandemic in order to be noticed. How deep must our addiction for notoriety and attention be if we are willing to prostitute ourselves to these ideals so easily.

Y’all, I call bullshit. I’ve spent the last year and a half learning over and over and over again that it isn’t what I produce that makes me valuable. My identity as created human being, Beloved of the Father is what makes me valuable. Period. This is such a difficult lesson to learn and I’ll keep learning it until the day I die. The lies are loud, but the Truth is deep: I will be just as valuable if no one comments on this blog post as I’ll be if it gets shared across the entirety of the internet. I will be just as valuable if I impact people with my words as I’ll be if I’m ignored.

This deep desire for acceptance, validation, recognition is what spurred me to give up social media for Lent. If I’m honest with you, every time I publish a post, I stalk it. I check back minute by minute (not exaggerating) to see if anyone liked it or commented. Because if you like my writing then you like me. If I get lots of attention from a post, then I get a dopamine hit and I feel worthy. Perhaps I’m less dramatic than the girl licking toilet seats, but I’m just as much as slave to the lie as she is.

Now is a time when we’ve all been put in an uncomfortable place and we get to choose how we respond. Will we fight and rail and scroll, scroll, scroll, starving for connection that won’t truly satisfy? Or will we use social media as a tool for connection, mindfully utilizing it to feed our hearts and minds with content that leads us closer to Truth? Will we use this time to connect with the people who have been gifted to us: our partners, parents, children, roommates, friends? If we’re alone, will we call and check in rather than letting Twitter updates do our talking for us? Regardless of our station, will we take time to do the hard work of silence and solitude, allowing it to transform us?

Solitude is hard, uncomfortable, and pushes us to a place where we’d rather not be. It’s up to us to decide if we will put ourselves at the service of the problem. My prayer for us all is that we would suffer well, that our interactions, whether online or via some other medium, would be truly connecting in meaningful and helpful ways. My prayer is that we would not be slaves to the internet, but rather let our solitude transform us and, after connection to Christ through this time set apart, that social media might serve us and be the medium through which we communicate the Belovedness of others.

Hidden is not forgotten. He will not leave us orphan. Christ is present, He is moving, He is real, and He adores you. Go be a light and walk in the truth that you are incredibly, indescribably loved just as you are, no matter where you are.

Peace and perseverance in all things,

Mary Susan

Note: Take a listen to the Abiding Together podcast to hear more about this idea of hiddenness and our identity as Beloved. They’re discussing Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen for Lent and there is so much good truth being shared there.

Corona Virus Got You Down? The Antidote to Fear is Faith

I gave up social media for Lent, so naturally my defense mechanism has been to compulsively check the news every five seconds. I’m working on it. The headlines are just saturated with Super Tuesday and ugly politics, but the biggest story of all is corona virus. I cannot escape it. The dread, the worry, the state by state analysis of its spread, the death toll, the potential vaccines, the worry, the worry, the fear, the panic.

It has been fascinating to watch it all unfold, fascinating to experience it playing out in my own heart. I’ve tried to check my emotions because I know that the media is fueled by clicks and site visits and there’s money to be made by inciting panic. And yet. Every now and then I find myself gripped by a fear that I can’t shake, my mind walking down the road of what if’s and could be’s. As I watch the internet reinvent headlines over and over, as I listen to people talk about it on the radio and see the numbers on face mask sales soar, I see an entire world that has been shaken to its core by something that has been here all along.

It’s our mortality and we don’t like it one bit.

Corona virus is new and scientifically impressive because of its characteristics as a disease, but perhaps more so because of how it sheds a light on our privilege. Most modern day humans living in the developed world have no concept of the imminence of our mortality. Even a hundred years ago, people grappled with death on a more daily basis than we do in the year 2020. 

Even as I type this, I find that last admission laughable. While we’ve got the benefit of modern medicine, disease control, better living conditions, etc, we’ve also got a whole slew of things out there that our ancestors didn’t grapple with. Lock down drills, active shooter warnings, chemicals in our food/water, and global warming are all things that our distant relatives probably never worried about. Sure, we’re not necessarily worried that our children will die due to scarlet fever and our dinner (usually) isn’t dependent upon what we grow or catch, but the fact remains that death is a part of life, like it or not. Always has been, always will be. 

The difference between us and our ancestors is distraction. We fill our minds and our schedules with invincibility, controlling and scheduling every moment of our days. If we’re allowed any free time at all, we fill it with scrolling or gaming or texting, anything to keep us from sitting alone with our thoughts. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, sitting in silence sucks. It’s uncomfortable to be confronted with ourselves. Our humanity, sinfulness, regrets, and discontent are difficult and its so delightfully easy to avoid them. Our mortality even more so. 

However, distracting ourselves doesn’t change the fact that some day we will die. No amount of internet research or hand washing will ever make our mortality go away. We can’t control it, or anticipate it, or make it fit into our vision of how we want things to go, so we ignore it. 

The trouble with that is that by ignoring and trying to control, we attempt to make ourselves into God and we all know that will never end well. I’m not saying that we need to live in fear, constantly looking over our shoulder for the Reaper ready to mow us down. What I am saying is that we need to befriend death. We need to remember that we have each been created by a loving God whose deepest desire is to know us and to draw us into His heart. All of life is an opportunity to grow away from the worldly things that tie us down, our selfishness, pride, greed, power, all the things that separate us from that love and to move forward toward Him. It is only through death that we can move on to the next stage of knowing and loving God. 

I know this is easier said than done. I am as desperate to live a long and happy life as the next guy. Stepping out into the unknown requires vulnerability and trust, both of which are incredibly scary. But when we get caught up in the fear, when the loss of control taunts us, I think it’s important to remember what’s true. I ask my kids this set of questions all the time when I see that the enemy is speaking lies to them or I see them struggling with fear: Who are you? Who made you? How did He make you? He made you good and He made you for good things. Christ conquered sin and death and if we make of our lives a daily offering to Him, constantly offering up all that we have, all that we’ve been given as gift to the Father, then death has no sting.

I realize that this is too simple an answer for some. It is for me some days. Living life to the fullest doesn’t erase the fear of death or the unknown. However, I do think that there’s merit in looking our mortality in the face. It gives us the opportunity to ask hard questions of ourselves. Why am I so afraid to die? What is it that I am afraid to lose? Who or what am I holding onto? Am I willing to give those things to God? What unhealthy affections am I more loyal to than to Christ? What sacrifice is it that death would require of me?

These aren’t fun questions to ask ourselves. They aren’t enjoyable dinner conversation starters. However, if we truly seek to serve God, if we truly desire to be held in the arms of our Savior, to give our lives to His provision, these are questions that must be asked.

For me, the thing that I’m most afraid to lose is my children. The thought that a disease could come along, sweep them away, and there would be nothing I could do to stop it is a horrifying realization. But what I have to remind myself if that they’re not my children. They’re God’s. They are eternal souls given left to my care. If I am frightened by my mortality and theirs, then I need to be making sure that I am doing my very best to honor their eternal souls, to teach them love, and to bring them as close to Christ Jesus as I possibly can.

And that’s what fear can do. It can either paralyze us or give us purpose. Pope Benedict XVI famously said that we are not made for comfort, we are made for greatness. Greatness requires sacrifice and self-awareness. Any suffering that life could possibly throw at us can either isolate and ruin us, or be a channel through which we encounter the Lord. 

We’re not in control, but we do have a choice. At the end of the day, we have no say in who contracts a highly contagious disease and who doesn’t, but we have a choice in how we respond. While there’s certainly no good time for a global pandemic, Lent does happen to be a particularly good time to contemplate our mortality. We live in the shadow of death, it’s true, but what that means is that we live in the reality that each moment is a gift. Each moment is a grace and we get to choose whether we live our moments in fear, or make the conscious decision to live our lives running to the Father in thanksgiving. And when we struggle with the trust, struggle with having enough faith, I think it is enough to pray, “Lord, help my unbelief,” and to step out in faith anyway.